Voting fraud charges filed against Paterson councilman and councilman-elect

L to R: Michael Jackson, Alex Mendez, Shelim Khalique and Abu RazyenCourtesy Office of the Attorney General

In the wake of rampant allegations of voter fraud in the Paterson City Council race, the New Jersey Attorney General filed voting fraud charges Thursday against a city councilman and a council-elect.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced voting fraud charges against 1st Ward Councilman Michael Jackson, 3rd Ward Council-Elect Alex Mendez and two other men, weeks after the May 12 local election in which the Passaic County Board of Elections decided not to count 800 city ballots found scattered across different municipalities.

Both Jackson, 48, and Mendez, 45, were charged with fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records, according to the statement. Mendez was additionally charged with election fraud and false registration or transfer.

Along with Jackson and Mendez, two Passaic County men, Shelim Khalique, 51, of Wayne, and Abu Razyen, 21, of Prospect Park, were also charged.

The investigation was sparked by reports that hundreds of mail-in ballots were found in a mailbox in Paterson and in a mailbox in Haledon. The coronavirus pandemic has forced voters to mail in their ballots, as voting sites are no longer open.

“Today’s charges send a clear message: if you try to tamper with an election in New Jersey, we will find you and we will hold you accountable,” Grewal said in a statement. “We will not allow a small number of criminals to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic process.”

Calls to Jackson’s office in City Hall were not immediately returned.

Much of the allegations stem from voters’ ability to designate a “bearer” of their ballot, who would presumably deliver the ballot for them. The bearer is legally required to sign the ballot before submitting it. According to the charges, all four men either approached and delivered vote-by-mail ballots from other people or possessed the ballots, even though their names were not listed as the bearers.

According to the charges, Jackson allegedly approached at least one voter in the district where he was running and took their mail-in-ballots for delivery to the county board of elections. The ballots were then taken to the board of elections without anything identifying the bearer, according to the statement. Jackson allegedly had more than three official mail-in-ballots that were not his own or had him listed as an authorized bearer, the statement said.

The councilman also allegedly received one voter’s mail-in ballot unsealed, without any vote, the statement said. That ballot was also delivered to the board of elections, in a sealed envelope and without any listed bearer.

Like Jackson, Mendez also stands accused of approaching at least one voter in his district and collecting their ballots, also to be delivered to the board of elections without a bearer listed, the statement said. But Mendez also allegedly acquired and submitted at least one voter registration application for someone he knew was not eligible to vote in the district listed on the application, the statement said.

The councilman and council-elect were aided by the two Passaic County men, who approached a house to collect ballots and had several mail-in-ballots in their possession, according to the charges.

Khalique allegedly went to at least one home in the city’s 2nd Ward and collected mail-in ballots from at least one voter, which were then delivered to the board of elections, again without a bearer listed. Rayzen allegedly had more than three mail-in ballots that weren’t his and did also not have a bearer listed, according to the statement.

Authorities also found a USB drive with a video saved of Rayzen “holding and flipping through a stack” of more than three mail-in ballot outer envelopes that also did not have the bearer filled out, according to the statement. The video allegedly confirms that Rayzen collected the ballots.

“While it’s gravely disappointing to see another episode of potential corruption in Paterson, I remain hopeful that this is the final chapter in what unfortunately has plagued our city for generations,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said in a statement.

In addition, Khalique and the bus company he owns, A-1 Elegant Tours, Inc. were charged Thursday with contract fraud and other crimes in a separate investigation, officials announced.

The charges come after an election fraught with irregularities, including the reported incident where 400 Paterson ballots were found in Haledon, 300 were found in South Paterson and another 100 were found elsewhere.

“U.S. Postal authorities informed the Passaic County Board of Elections about bundled vote-by-mail ballots within their possession,” Passaic County spokesman Keith Furlong said at the time. “These ballots have been delivered to the county and set aside. Board of Elections Commissioners decided not to count 800-plus of these ballots yesterday.”

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